Anti-Bullying Campaign Tools for Teachers

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Rationale (Q & A)


Q. Is school bullying too rare a phenomenon for schools to worry about it?

A. No! Research indicates that bullying is very common in schools in Ireland and around the world.  It is very damaging for pupils.


Since it is so widespread Boards of Management, school principals with a duty of care in respect of pupils, and teachers who act in loco parentis, should indeed be very worried about it. All have a responsibility to do what they can to minimise bullying in their schools and deal with it effectively when it arises.

Q. Is bullying not just part of the rough-and-tumble of growing up that includes horseplay and even occasional fights, something inevitable that helps pupils to grow up and toughen up for life?

A. No! Bullying is deliberate persistent hurtful or upsetting behaviour targeted at vulnerable pupils that continues to upset and undermine them, making their school lives miserable, damaging their self-esteem and self-confidence, causing serious deterioration in their academic performance and even, perhaps years later, leading to their death by suicide. Its deliberately hurtful nature and persistent pattern make it very different from normal horseplay. Luckily, for vigilant observers these characteristics also make it recognisable.

Q. If bullying is so serious and damaging why is it still widespread in schools?

A. Bullying can be covert - as well as obvious physical bullying it can involve such subtle gestures as a look, a sharp intake of breath, a facial expression, a whispered "name-call," a change in tone or a sneer and these are difficult for teachers to detect. Even if a teacher sees one incident and deals with it, without further investigation s/he cannot conclude that there is an ongoing pattern of bullying though it may have been going on for weeks or months.  While pupils see bullying behaviour they often do not recognise it as such and do not understand the damage it can do so they are unlikely to report it.  Even if they do recognise it there are obstacles that discourage them from reporting it, like punishment of perpetrators that can lead to fear of reprisals. 

Q. What is the most fundamental thing that targeted pupils or their parents want in bullying situations?

A. They want the bullying to stop without further negative repercussions for targeted pupils.

Q. What is the Department of Education and Skills' position on bullying?

A. On 13th September 2013 the D.E.S. announced the replacement of its 1993 anti-bullying guidelines for schools with "Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools, September 2013."  This document is available in the "Teacher Training" page of our website.  It states:

6.5.2. Effective practice includes prevention and awareness raising measures across all aspects of bullying.

The awareness-raising sections of our website contribute to the fulfilment of these requirements. The procedures document also states:

6.8.9 School authorities must ensure that the school has clear procedures for investigating and dealing with bullying . . .

and goes on to say that the school's procedures . . .

. . . must be consistent with the following approach:

(i) The primary aim for the relevant teacher in investigating and dealing with bullying is to resolve any issues and to restore, as far as is practicable, the relationships of the parties involved (rather than to apportion blame).

This approach, advocated in our Anti-Bullying Campaign programme, of avoiding blame and seeking resolution, is vital if bullying situations are to be brought to an end with a "win-win" outcome. 

While the latter aim seeks a change in current bullying behaviour of a pupil, the former, the awareness-raising, if carefully planned and implemented, has the potential to change both individual pupil attitudes and the whole school culture, which in turn can have a sustained impact on future pupil behaviour, minimising bullying throughout the school. The Procedures state:

1.4.1 These procedures recognise that a cornerstone in the prevention of bullying is a positive school culture and climate . . . This, then, offers the best chance of delivering a long-term benefit. 

The Anti-Bullying Campaign programme is fully compatible with the D.E.S. Procedures.

Q. To achieve this, should schools not just hire in outside experts to explain about bullying?

A. No! Getting in experts can be very worthwhile, particularly at the time of launching a new school response to bullying, and experts are available to do this. However, if that intervention is not followed up by an ongoing awareness-raising programme, in the rollercoaster of pupil consciousness it can soon be forgotten.

Q. So how can this aim be fulfilled in a school?

A. To change the school culture so as to minimise bullying requires an ongoing programme of activities and events that continually raise awareness about bullying, its unacceptability and its negative consequences. Over time, these work like advertising to change attitudes and ultimately to change behaviour. Awareness also takes away perpetrators' excuses, used to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, like "I didn't know!" It can also remove bystanders' excuses like "I didn't do anything," helping them realise that everyone has a responsibility to prevent bullying and thereby encouraging them to report it when they are aware of it. One-off interventions cannot achieve this. Neither can the current S.P.H.E. and CSPE programmes on their own since they have so little time available to devote to this issue.

Q. Will pupils normally report bullying once they are aware of it and the damage it does?

A. No! They may be unhappy with the bullying but if a school deals with bullying by punishing the perpetrators pupils may be reluctant to report it. In that situation pupils are likely to side with fellow-pupils, even bullying fellow-pupils, rather than teachers out of misplaced peer loyalty. They may also be reluctant to report it out of fear of repercussions for themselves or others.

Q. Is there any way to overcome this problem?

A. Yes! A "Reform, not Blame" approach by the school avoids this problem. When alleged perpetrators are interviewed, in return for honesty and for honouring a signed promise not to re-offend, they can legitimately be offered amnesty and confidentiality (unless a legal requirement dictates otherwise or they reoffend). This approach is generally considered fair by pupils who support it and cooperate with it. Since pupils observe almost all bullying in schools and a good awareness raising programme helps them recognise it and encourages them to reject it, this approach then empowers them to report it to teachers who can then deal with it. This approach has the added benefit that there is less likely to be any resentment or backlash against either the targeted pupil or those who report the bullying though they too are protected by confidentiality. This approach has a high success rate, which fully satisfies the wishes of targeted pupils and their parents as well as the "duty of care" of their schools.

Q. Does the perpetrator not deserve punishment?

A. Pupils are children and children make "mistakes" in their dealings with other children as well as in other areas of their lives. Indeed, they may have "baggage" of their own. If perpetrators come to an understanding of the wrong they were doing and promise not to do so again and keep that promise (which is what the traditional word "repentance" means) this is the best possible outcome for all concerned. If they break their promise, however, there may be "consequences" for breach of promise and failure to comply with the school anti-bullying policy. In these circumstances perpetrators can forfeit the amnesty and the confidentiality and must accept the outcome prescribed under the school code of behaviour.  It should be noted that regardless of whether one thinks the perpetrator deserves punishment or not there are also pragmatic arguments against punishing perpetrators: if they are punished (a) other pupils are less likely to report the bullying, possibly due to misplaced loyalty or fear of repercussions for themselves or targeted pupils and (b) the bullying is more likely to either transfer outside of the school, change form e.g. to cyberbullying or focus on a different pupil, so the problem is not resolved.

 Q. Should any particular form of bullying be treated differently, e.g. cyber-bullying, homophobic bullying or racism?

A. No! Bullying is an expression of an inclination, using any focus that works, to exert a power imbalance over a targeted pupil. This is the real problem that needs to be resolved. If this inclination to bully is effectively dealt with so perpetrators come around to treating others fairly, equally and respectfully all particular expressions of it, like cyber-bullying, homophobic bullying or racism will disappear too. For this reason, any specific kinds of bullying behaviour that occur are dealt with in the same way as any others.  However, in addition to exercises that address the problem of "traditional bullying" and focus on respect and equality of worth regardless of difference, we offer anti-cyber-bullying exercises in both our primary and second level awareness-raising sections and we offer anti-homophobic-bullying exercises in our second level section.

Q. If carefully planned and implemented what impact does this kind of Anti-Bullying Campaign have?

A. A culture of The Three "R"s is developed in schools, a culture where bullying is Recognised for what it is, Rejected for what it does and Reported so it can be effectively dealt with using a "Reform, not Blame" approach. When bullying is dealt with in this way the result is a "win win" situation for the targeted pupil, the bullying pupil and observers as well as a significant reduction in bullying in schools.

Q. Would such a campaign involve much additional work for teachers already under a lot of pressure?

A. The Anti-Bullying Campaign in a school involves some work but because we have arranged it to be very efficient and effective this work is offset by savings for the school principal, deputy-principal and general teaching staff in all schools as well as for year-heads and tutors at post-primary level. To minimise the workload we offer our Anti-Bullying Campaign programme to schools "ready made" as a "going concern" with awareness-raising exercises that are self-explanatory even for pupils.  Teachers will normally be able to reach all classes with these exercises throughout the school year despite the constraints of their own teaching workload. Ideally, some time for coordinating the programme and resolving particular bullying situations, which are time consuming tasks, would be linked to a pastoral care or other post of responsibility.  We hope schools can prioritise an Anti-Bullying Campaign when identifying the "needs of the school" for allocation of posts of responsibility. We believe that there is nothing teachers do that is more important than creating a safe happy environment for their pupils and that a programme to deal effectively with bullying is essential if this is to be achieved. This is fundamental to the ethos of our schools and the values of our teachers as well as being enshrined in school mission statements and anti-bullying policies so it seems logical that everything that needs to be done to achieve this should be done.

Q. How can teachers set about implementing the Anti-Bullying Campaign in their schools?

A.Teachers can register on our website at to get access to the free resources and the guidelines for using them in English and Gaeilge (Irish).  Then, using these resources, teachers, can implement the Anti-Bullying Campaign.  We believe that once you try it and see the difference it makes to the lives of your pupils you will never want your school to be without it again.

Mary Kent & Seán Fallon.

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